Rafael Nadal and Li Na had decent workouts before sealing spots in the French Open quarter-finals yesterday, but winning machine Novak Djokovic did not need to hit a ball to fast-forward into the last four.
As the first rain spots of the tournament began to drip on fans zig-zagging their way among the Roland Garros boutiques and snack stalls, champion Nadal was criss-crossing Center Court in his usual all-action style to beat Ivan Ljubicic 7-5, 6-3, 6-3.
The Spaniard is still not quiet at his fluent best after struggling in the early rounds, but he is peaking ominously.
So is Australian Open runner-up Li, who outlasted ninth seed Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic 2-6, 6-1, 6-3 on another humid day with thunderstorms forecast. She is the first Chinese player to reach quarter-finals of the clay-court Grand Slam.
After a lightning-quick third-round victory over Sorana Cirstea, sixth seed Li was given a much tougher test, but again she impressed the tennis connoisseurs on Court Philippe Chatrier with her dogged determination and weight of shot.
She battled back from an early break in the third set to prevail and prompted the suited gentlemen in the galleries to tip their panama hats in appreciation.
“It was tough, like 3-0 down in the final set. Even myself, I didn’t believe I could come back, because she has a huge big serve,” Li, whose husband and former coach could not stand the pressure, told reporters.
“So I don’t know what happened. Maybe just my husband left and I could win six games in a row,” she joked.
Djokovic was already looking unstoppable in his bid for a first title at Roland Garros and now he will get an extra’s day rest compared with the others in the men’s draw.
His quarter-final opponent Fabio Fognini pulled out of today’s scheduled match after failing to recover from a thigh injury sustained in Sunday’s five-setter with Albert Montanes.
“My doctors said if I play tomorrow maybe it can be dangerous,” flamboyant Italian Fognini said.
On Court Suzanne Lenglen, Juan Ignacio Chela took almost four hours to beat Alejandro Falla in five sets 4-6, 6-2, 1-6, 7-6 (7/5), 6-2.
On Sunday evening, Djokovic extended his unbeaten run to 41 matches this year as the Serb crushed 13th seed Richard Gasquet 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.
Gasquet could do nothing against Djokovic.
The Serb was in a class of his own, barely blinking as Gasquet unleashed a series of trademark sizzling backhands.
Meanwhile, reigning women’s champion Francesca Schiavone fought off three-time French Open semi-finalist Jelena Jankovic 6-3, 2-6, 6-4.
The Italian fifth seed, who kissed her beloved Roland Garros clay after a 2 hour, 38 minute tussle, showed more tactical abilities than the Serbian 10th seed.
Spanish seventh seed David Ferrer and ninth seed Gael Monfils failed to complete their contest when it was interrupted because of bad light with the Frenchman leading 6-4, 2-6, 7-5, 0-2.
In the mixed doubles, Australia’s Casey Dellacqua and Scott Lipsky of the US defeated Taiwan’s Chan Yung-jan and her partner, Eric Butorac of the US, 3-6, 6-2 (10/6).